Newsletter – Well, This is Pretty Awful

I wrote this for the Urban News for June 2020.

It is really hard to know where to start. I thought about just submitting a column that starts with expletives; it would also be completely filled with expletives and it would end with expletives. Somehow, I did not think the thoughtful editors of The Urban News would accept such an article.

It Happened Again

This time it was Minneapolis, but the sad truth is it could have happened anywhere in the United States. Another black man, George Floyd, was detained by police because he was suspected of passing counterfeit $20 bills. There was an altercation, a detainment, a handcuffing.

There was yet another infamous cellphone video. We see George Floyd being held down by a white police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck, one hand casually in his pocket. Mr. Floyd is on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind him, and can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.”

This is so reminiscent of Eric Garner, it hurts. It hurts badly. As you recall, Eric Garner was a black man who was stopped by police for selling individual cigarettes—a crime in New York. As he is dying, his last words are, “I can’t breathe.” The police officer used an illegal chokehold on Mr. Garner—also a crime in New York.

That was almost six years ago. As in Minneapolis, the officers do nothing to resuscitate a lifeless Garner. The police officer who used the illegal chokehold to kill Garner was fired. There was no indictment. No one went to jail.

Almost any black American—well, I should say, almost any progressive American—can name five to 10 Black Americans killed at the hands of American police officers over the past several years. Their names are widely known, the incidents infamous. Sandra Bland was pulled over in Texas for a traffic stop while visiting for anew university job. She was arrested for almost no reason, and she died in jail with no explanation. No-one was held accountable; no-one went to jail.

Michael Brown got into an altercation with a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His offense, which ultimately cost him his life, was walking in the middle of the street. Michael Brown ignored the police request to get out of the street and walk on the sidewalk. The incident escalated and ended with Michael Brown being shot to death. The officers were not indicted; no-one went to jail. (The 13th Juror is a book that I commissioned Nelda Holder to write. It is about the death of Michael Brown.)

Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old black youth who was developmentally delayed. He was playing in a park by himself with a toy plastic gun—the way white boys play “cops and robbers” with impunity. An unidentified stranger called the police because this 12-year-old boy was playing with a toy gun. The police drove up with their guns drawn. Rice did not respond to initial instructions that were shouted at him, and two seconds after their arrival, he was shot dead. He was treated as a hardened criminal. There was an investigation and the conclusion was that shooting was “justified.”

More recently, Ahmad Aubrey, former football standout, was jogging in a neighborhood close to his home. The unarmed 25-year-old black man was spotted by a father and son, both ex-police officers. They decided that Aubrey fit the description of a suspect responsible for several break-ins in the area. They grabbed their weapons, hopped in their pickup truck, and chased Ahmad down. They followed him, hit him with their truck, and when he tried to challenge them, they shot him to death on a public street in Georgia. For months—until a video came out—there were no arrests. (Let’s not forget Breonna Taylor.)

Ahmad Aubrey’s case echoes the death of Trayvon Martin, a young man was walking back to his house from a convenience store when he was confronted by a resident of his father’s apartment complex—a former “neighborhood watch” leader. A fight ensued. Trayvon Martin was shot dead. George Zimmerman, the security guard, never saw a day in jail for killing an unarmed man. (more…)